Last weekend while doing my usual run around Druid Hill Park, I noticed something upsetting: A fair amount of women were running without good sports bras on. It was painful to watch them.
Why are sports bras important?
Physical activity makes breasts bounce up, down and even in a figure-eight. Continuous and repetitive movements can result in soreness, pain and sagging.
Sports bras are made to reduce this movement. Breasts have no muscle, yet without proper support, the skin and Cooper's ligaments (ligaments near the breast which give them their size and shape) can break down and cause sagging. Once your Cooper's ligaments stretch out, they do not bounce back.
It doesn't matter what size breasts you have, everyone experiences bouncing during physical activity. Therefore, every woman, no matter what size she is, should wear a sports bra while running or exercising.
Types of sport bras
Compression bras work the way they sound, by compressing breasts against the chest to restrict movement.
Encapsulation bras have individual cups. Each cup surrounds and supports each breast. Most regular bras are encapsulation bras and have no compression.
Combination compression/encapsulation bras combine compression with individual cups and offer the most support.
Bra tanks, also known as shimmels, are tank tops with a built-in shelf bra. These are okay for low impact activities, but not for running.
Finally, there are differences in straps. Spaghetti straps provide less support than wider straps. Racer-back straps are more supportive than both spaghetti and scoop back.
GENERAL ATHLETIC SPORTS BRAS
Fitting a sports bra
You want a sports bra that fits well, both in the band and cups. Overall, your sports bra should feel a bit tighter than a regular bra, however, you should be able to breathe deeply and comfortably. Hook it in the middle and take some deep breaths. Is this comfortable? Good. It should be.
The band shouldn't move. It should fit snugly and comfortably. Raise your hands above your head. Did the elastic band move? If it crept up your rib cage, try a smaller band. If the bra has straps, try adjusting them.
Your breasts shouldn't bulge, pay close attention to any bulging at the top or by the underarm. Furthermore, the cups shouldn't have any wrinkles or gaps. If the cup fabric is wrinkled, try a smaller size.
Make sure there is nothing rubbing or chafing around the armholes, straps, seams, hooks, clasps or anything else. Many sports bras offer adjustable straps. Adjust them to feel supportive, yet not uncomfortable. Furthermore, make sure the straps aren't digging into your shoulders.
Underwires are supposed to sit flat on your ribs, not on your breasts. The front (between the wire) should be against your chest bone.
Luckily, most newer sports bras use high-tech fabrics, including moisture wicking. This can improve breathability and help remove excess moisture from sweat which can cause chafing. Cotton bras will stay wet, this can lead to uncomfortable skin irritations.
For the last step, jump up and down, jog in place, do jumping jacks. If it feels supportive, you're set! If not, keep looking.
Taking care of your sports bra
Even if you've found the best sports bra ever designed, you will eventually have to let it go. Unfortunately, at some point a sports bra will lose its elasticity. However, there are ways you can lengthen its life: hand wash and hang dry them. If you can't hang dry then make sure not to use fabric softeners which kill moisture-wicking fabrics. Using a specialty laundry detergent or sport wash like Nathan's PowerWash or 2Toms Sport Detergent can help keep your hi-tech fabrics lasting much longer. Buying a special laundry detergent for your running, tennis or exercise clothing may feel like an unnecessary additional expense; however, you will save much more in the long run by not having to replace your hi-tech clothing as often.
Furthermore, if the fabric starts piling and/ or movement increases and support diminishes... it's time to let it go.
A good sports bra should last six months to one year or approximately 72 washes.